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Winter Vacation

Olympics break offers opportunity for travel, conditioning, reflection

No hockey until March. The National Hockey League is officially in shutdown mode, a quadrennial rite of passage as the best of the best participate in the Winter Olympic Games.

For the rest of the players, the break offers an opportunity for a bit of down time, to travel to visit with family or friends, to recover from nagging injuries, or just to watch the Olympics.

As the players finished up their final morning skate last Saturday in preparation to face the San Jose Sharks, clearly the need to end on a high note and get one win for February was first and foremost on everyone’s minds. Yet it was hard not to be mindful that this would be the last Sabres game for quite a while.

Tyler Myers plans to use the break to go visit his family in Texas for a few days, then participate in practices and keep in playing shape. “Basically, going to do nothing, try to take a break, rest up and have a good time,” said Myers.

“I think the break will be a nice chance for us to regroup and get ready for March,” Myers added, when asked if this was a good time to stop playing, judging from the team’s horrendous month. “What sort of streaks are happening now, winning or losing, will have little bearing on what happens in March. Lots of teams are in the running and those who are conditioned and prepared will be the most successful.”

A number of players stressed the importance of continued conditioning during this down time, and Coach Lindy Ruff has scheduled practices on the ice, even though he won’t be here in person to manage them.

Tim Kennedy plans to stay close to home and won’t be away from the rink for long. “After four or five days, I will be right back at it, trying to stay and keep in shape. That’s important for every player if they want to come out strong when play resumes,” said Kennedy. “Once we’re back, it will be 20 or so games plus the playoffs, and I need to get the workouts in every day so that I am ready.”

Meantime, Patrick Kaleta is counting on this pause to recover fully from his knee injury and get to playing shape in time for the stretch run.

“Hopefully I’ll be 100 percent and good to go after the break,” said Kaleta, who has been taking part in practices while still wearing braces and bandaging around his sore knee. Kaleta admitted that he doesn’t watch too much Olympics coverage. “If the set is on, I’ll pay attention to see what’s going on, but I don’t go out of my way to sit and watch hours on end. Of course I’ll keep an eye on the hockey.”

For some players there will be no respite. Jochen Hecht, who will dress for Team Germany, said he wished he could have been a part of all the Olympics pageantry at the opening ceremonies. “I watched, and saw a few of the guys marching in the parade who are my teammates. Certainly I would have liked to be there, but that’s hockey and the way the schedule works out,” said Hecht. As for his country’s chances? “We’ve got no pressure. To win a medal or place in the top six is not realistic for us, so our goal is to do the best we can to qualify and just have a good time there.”

Any Olympics predictions to be offered in the men’s ice hockey tournament? “I’m not going to handicap this one, there are so many outstanding teams out there,” Myers responded. Tim Kennedy said, “Team USA is going to win gold. Take it to the bank!” Teammate Patrick Kaleta echoed that sentiment. “I’m going with Team USA. Millsie [Ryan Miller] will pull it out for them, I’m confident of that. But I’ll be watching all my teammates and hoping they perform well.”

Olympic hockey fever really had the temperature turned up this past Saturday, as youngsters skated onto the ice with national flags of all the participants, and national jerseys were presented to the participating players on the Sabres roster. All this took place prior to the opening faceoff between the Sabres and San Jose Sharks. And as the final seconds ticked down, a 3-1 win for Buffalo, the crowd saluted Ryan Miller, chanting “USA! USA!” in unison.

Ruff put all the hype in perspective. “I am humbled to be a part of it,” he said. “And even the piece before the game tonight, you get the feeling to represent your country, coming from a little farm town in Western Canada. To share that with parents and family will be special.”

Taro Sez...

• Let’s recap: The NHL shuts down for three weeks, sends its best players to the Olympics, and the reward? The marquee USA vs. Canada men’s hockey showdown this Sunday will be shown on MSNBC, while the flagship NBC network will feature ice dancing and analyst Dick Button flapping his gums by the fireside.

• Meantime in Canada, this game will be aired on either Meteo Media, Teletoon, or OUTtv. Not!

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